ALBANY, Calif. -- Andronico's Park & Shop here is offering more flexibility in its spring holiday-meal programs, switching to an a la carte menu to better accommodate dinner parties of various sizes.
This year, the independent retailer is offering its customers a wide selection of menu options from which they can pick and choose to assemble their Easter and Passover dinners. This replaces last year's format, in which customers chose from several versions of a fixed-price, full-dinner program.
Andronico's made the change in order to stay in touch with today's customer, according to Patricia M. Jordan, director of deli operations.
"The classic prepared-meal package just hasn't been a strong item for us at Easter," Jordan told SN. "But our customers who rely on us shouldn't be disappointed. And we felt there was a larger market potential that could be served if we could identify their needs and meet them."
The needs of smaller gatherings were being neglected by San Francisco Bay retailers, Jordan said.
"Most of the preset meals are for eight to 10 people," said Jordan. "That was completely missing the two- to four- or six- person celebrations.
"Also, the hosts or hostesses of smaller parties tend to be busy or working up to the last minute and have little or no time for food preparation, yet they want to offer their guests top-quality food. Larger parties are very often of the pot-luck variety, with each guest bringing his or her specialty."
Andronico's new menu is comprised of prepared items that represent every facet of a meal, from appetizers to main courses, from side dishes to desserts. And they can be selected individually or grouped together into partial or complete meals.
The Easter and Passover holiday meals are available in any quantity, Jordan said. This flexibility also extends to ordering. While pre-orders are always welcome, each unit is fully prepared, thus helping customers build their holiday meals on the spot.
The menu is varied. A series of pates, along with a selection of tortes, are available as appetizers. Roasted potatoes and spring asparagus with hazelnut vinaigrette are just two of the chain's side-dish options. Fruit tarts with fresh fruit and specially prepared Passover baked goods -- vendor provided from a Bay Area bakery -- serve to round out the prepared-meal menu.
Andronico's meal-program planners also took cues -- at times, direct requests -- from customers in setting up this year's entree. Jordan said he received so many requests for Andronico's own apricot-glazed ham as a center-of-the-plate item that the operator was obliged to add it to the a la cart menu. The ham, which had originally been offered in the deli section solely as a sliced meat, is now available in half-ham sizes ranging from 3.5 to 4 pounds.
The offering of fully prepared Easter- and Passover-meal components has been promoted both in-store and in the retailer's advertisements.
In-store, the items are grouped together in the service-prepared food case as a visual menu, with the signature apricot-glazed ham sitting center stage on a decorated platter.
In promotional materials, Andronico's tells its customers about the fully prepared menu selections being offered a la carte, and in quantities that are adjusted to each customer's needs.
In its promotions, however, Andronico's is careful to give its customers a "meal package" feeling. The objective: to present the meal concept, with appetizer, main course, side dishes and dessert components, and at the same time offer the ultimate in flexibility, from taste preferences to customized quantities.
Jordan said Andronico's expects the smaller-size option in the prepared-meal program to be especially popular. She's also exploring a smaller version of the chain's sales-proven Thanksgiving meal. She plans to offer a half-turkey as the center of the plate entree this fall.